SSL Interview: Dr. Lonnie Barbach (part 2)

This is the 2nd installment of my Lonnie Barbach interview blog. This is what I hope will be the first of several interviews with people who I feel have positively contributed to a realistic perspective of female sexuality. Check her website out here, and if you missed the first installment, check it out here.

Something that intrigues me (as I have particular ideas about this represented in my movie, Science Sex and the Ladies) is the effect on the cultural landscape of sexuality from the 1982 book, The G-Spot and Other Recent Discoveries about Human Sexuality. Although, one couldn’t really say this is when the G-spot was discovered, one could say that this was when the American culture discovered it. Since Lonnie had been a player on the sexual research and therapy scene during this time, I asked her about her impressions of the “G-Spot drop.” She told me she had rather mixed feelings about it. She did know Beverly Whipple, one of the co-authors of the book, and praised her as a really well-educated and excellent researcher, but while the g-spot exists, she also said the “G-spot drop” (that’s my stupid phrase – not hers) brought back a sense of the Freudian vaginal orgasm that had caused so much trouble in the past.

Freud’s ideas convinced a lot of people that vaginal orgasms were the only right orgasms for a woman, and it was really just starting to go out of vogue to think in those terms when the G-Spot dropped on the scene. Since the book brought to the forefront the idea that there was a center in the vagina that had sensitivity, Lonnie worried that there could be more issues with women believing there were right and wrong ways to function sexually. In fact, Lonnie really does care about making sure women know that no type of sexual release is better than any other. During our very first phone conversation, after I had written her an explanation of my rather stark stance on the definition of an orgasm, she cautioned me. Her experiences over the years have led her away from making such statements about female sexual response, and she hoped that I could get my point across without creating a sense in women that there was a right and wrong way to respond sexually. It’s a good point, and I too hope I can create more relief in women than anxiety. I think Lonnie and I both agree that there is unlimited ways in which a woman can enjoy and find pleasure in sexual activity. It is my somewhat inflexible stance on the definition of an orgasm where we may part ways. Although I stand by my resolute stance, I truly respect and appreciate the compassionate approach she takes to women’s sexuality. That’s probably what has made her such a successful therapist.

Speaking of orgasm I asked her whether she has seen women who she believes cannot physically orgasm. “Yes, it is not common, but there are drugs that can cause a person to be anorgasmic. But otherwise, most women can orgasm with a vibrator,” she told me. She has seen a small number of women who can only come with a vibrator. Why? I ask. She’s not sure exactly. She thinks it could be that they are simply used to the intensity of the vibrator that cannot be duplicated by other means. Also, she does know that anyone can stop an orgasm with his or her brain. We can prevent ourselves from orgasming, and that may be what is happening with those women.

When I asked her about women who were not sure if they’d orgasmed or not, I expected her to discuss the idea that if you are unsure, then you probably haven’t, but instead she discussed women who she believes had not recognized that they had orgasms. She told me, “I’ve had women who come into my office thinking that they can’t orgasm and coming out with nothing other than the realization that they have had one.”

I asked her to explain how she might begin discerning whether a woman had actually orgasmed or not. She replied, “Well, I would ask, why did you stop masturbating? If it was that their hand was tired or they got bored, then they probably didn’t orgasm, but if they stopped because it just felt like they were finished, or their clitoris got really sensitive then maybe they did orgasm. Then we could work on what it felt like up to that point and learn to extend that arousal so the release would be stronger and something they could feel more easily.” She went on to say that women often expect an orgasm to be some kind of mind-blowing, earth-shaking thing, and that expectation can cause confusion. It actually made a lot of sense. I don’t think I’m too far off by saying that usually the first orgasm a person has is not exactly their strongest. There is an amount of practice that goes into controlling and enhancing your own orgasm (Yay masturbation!!!). Anyway, it was an interesting insight, and it was a reminder that these things are not instinctual.

My final question to her was about her experiences with lesbians in therapy. I think there is often a sense that lesbians don’t have the kinds of orgasm issues that hetero women do; that because their partners are other women there is a belief that their sexual encounters are better. I have a sneaking suspicion that lesbians are first and foremost women, and thus have the same miseducation, unnatural expectations, and hang-ups that many hetero women face. Lonnie agreed saying, “With lesbians, it’s very similar except that they may feel even worse about their inability to orgasm because they feel they should be able to or it should be great. There’s even more pressure.”

At that, we both thanked each other, but what the hey, I’ll thank her again. I really appreciate Lonnie’s openness. The simple fact that she responded to my first letter was pretty exciting to me, and then later that she agreed to an interview – well that was just awesome. If you’re interested in learning more about Lonnie Barbach or reading any of her books, check out her website Here.

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